September 1, 2018 A Complete Guide to App Store Optimization

A Complete Guide to App Store Optimization

Mobile app marketing is about interacting with your users through their entire lifecycle — from when they first hear about your app, so when they become a loyal and regular user. To do this effectively, you have to figure out who will use your app, where to find those people, what to say to them, and what they want from you.

The typical way to think of mobile app usage is as a sequence of stages, or “funnel”. There are many funnel stages, but here’s a simplified view.

Acquisition: is the first step in a user’s interaction with your app. How do you get them to download and install your app in the first place?

Activation is next: The exact meaning of “user activation” differs from app to app, but in general, activation refers to a user’s first actions, such as adding their email address or making an initial purchase.

Retention: means turning your app into a regular destination for your user.

Each stage requires different strategies and tactics, and each is required for a successful mobile app marketing strategy.

Mobile App Acquisition

The first part of building a successful app is, of course, getting people to use it. From a messaging perspective, you have to convince a prospective user that your app can solve a problem they have.

Mobile App User Activation

Once you’ve got a user to install your app, you have to get them to use it. Most users abandon apps shortly after download, so it’s important to have an effective messaging strategy that reminds users how to use your app, and why.

Mobile App Retention

Keeping your users engaged is a long-term proposition; retention is especially important because it’s a key factor in calculating the lifetime value of a customer, and therefore whether your efforts have been profitable or not.

How to Communicate with Your User

No matter what channel you use, your user’s attention is a precious resource, and you have to make sure that what you’re sending is valuable to them. Every time you send a message, be sure to answer these questions:

  • What’s the purpose of your message? Is it valuable to your user?
  • What action do you want the user to take when they receive it? This will help you communicate your intent more effectively, and better measure its effectiveness.
  • What context does your message matter in? Mobile messaging is all about context: time, location, user preferences.
  • Will, your user care? If you’re on Twitter, it might be OK to send 20 push notifications a day. If you’re Candy Crush, maybe you shouldn’t even send one push notification a week, because your user is a casual gamer who doesn’t care about new features.

Different Modes of App Marketing:

App Store Optimization

  • Logo Optimization
  • App Screen Shots
  • Title – 60 Characters
  • Short Description – 150 Characters
  • Long Description – 150 Characters
  • Privacy Policy – Update Mandatory

Inside APP

  • Share & Refer Option
  • Social Media Tabs in Side Menu

App Marketing

  • Facebook Marketing – SDK integration Compulsory
  • Google Marketing – SDK integration Compulsory
  • Affiliate Marketing
  • Instagram Ads
  • SMS Marketing


  • App Review websites – Request for article submission
  • Tutorial videos on YouTube

App Store Optimization:

 Keep keywords within 100 characters

 Apple allows you to add keywords to your App Store listing. The search algorithm uses these keywords to show your app in the results, and therefore it’s critical that you select the appropriate keywords which describe your app.

You can use up to 100 characters for keywords. Don’t use long tail keywords, plurals, the name of your app, or misspellings in the keyword field. Separate keywords with commas, and don’t use spaces.

Make your app title descriptive within 50 characters

Unless you are a major brand, your app won’t have any recognition among users. In this scenario, it’s important to use keywords to describe the core functionality of your app so that users are clear about what they are downloading.

Use keywords in the title to improve your position in search, and keep everything under 50 to 60 characters.

Avoid using generic terms or names similar to existing apps in your app title

Using bland terms like “photos” or “music” in the title of your app will confuse users and cause them to ignore your app.

Be careful of using names similar to already existing apps. This is a black hat tactic favored by shady developers who put out fake apps and might result in Apple banning your app from the Store.

For example, check out how all these apps in this screenshot tout mirror effects.

Don’t use celebrity names or trademarks in keywords

There is a strict policy in App Store developer guidelines about not using celebrities, protected names, or trademarks as keywords unless you have permission to do so. Unless you can show that your app is an official app, or has some kind of affiliation, just don’t do it.

Add keywords to titles

Adding descriptive keywords in titles will increase your app’s discoverability by 10.3%, according to an analysis.

 Choose categories which describe the core function of your app

The App Store search algorithm also looks at categories while displaying results to users. While choosing categories, focus on the core functionality of your app and not on the secondary functions.

For example, Instagram is categorized in Photos and Video, while Facebook is categorized as Social Networking, even though both have a significant overlap in functionalities, and users consider Instagram to be a social network now.

Keep your app description user-friendly

App descriptions are important in telling people what your app actually does. Here are a few tips for making your app descriptions better:

  • Use bullet points and break up paragraphs.
  • Use social proof (press coverage, user testimonials)
  • List out benefits and use cases..
  • Add information about the version number, changes made in the new update, bug fixes etc
  • Append links to website or support.

Optimize the first few lines in your description

This gif from Apple’s developer’s page shows how users see the description: by default, they see only the first few lines, and only on clicking the More link can they see the full text.

Target keywords with low competition and lower search volumes first

In other words, be the big fish in a small pond instead of a small fish in a big pond.

Use keyword research tools to find out keywords that have lower search volume and lower competition and rank well for those. Once you have built up social proof and credibility, move in and attack the bigger boys on their own turf.

Create the first two screenshots which show off your best features

According to research by Storemaven 60% users won’t swipe past the first two screenshots. So, make those two screenshots count.

Some tips on designing better screenshots:

  • Submit hi-res screenshots.
  • Show off the best features of your app in the first two images
  • Use overlay text and annotations to improve messaging
  • Use a plain background for better readability

Use app preview video in your description with an attention-grabbing poster frame

Apple recommends adding a short video (15-30 sec) in your app listing showing different functionalities of your app.

Test the video by using an eye-catching poster frame (thumbnail image) so that users are driven to click on it. A survey by AppAnnie showed a conversion lift of 25-30% when the video was added to the main page.

A good video will also drive down install costs and give you more loyal users and drive feature discoverability.

Localize, localize, localize

Only 31% of app revenues come from North America, while 41% comes from Asia.

If your app listing is only in English you will be locking your app out from a vast chunk of mobile users worldwide. Internationalize your app’s codebase by following these guidelines,  and then start by changing the:

  • App title
  • Keywords
  • First few lines in the description.

Once you have seen a lift in conversion (an app developer saw a 767% lift just doing this) change other parts, like:

  • Screenshots
  • Videos
  • Currency and date formats
  • Description
  • Reviews

Update your app regularly to comply with Apple’s policies

Apple looks askance at apps which are not updated in a long time. Like Google which rewards sites that are updated frequently, regularly updated apps tell Apple that the developer is committed to providing a better user experience.

You also need to update your apps to comply with changes in Apple policy as well as see the app store optimization changes you are making reflected in your app store listing.

 Sweat over your app icon

Considering the fact that users remember your app on the App Store by how the icon looks, it’s absolutely essential that you pay attention to how your icon looks.

According to an analysis of app icons by Incipit simple icons with limited color palettes outranked gaudier icons.

Users also seem to prefer apps whose icons have a polished look and have effects like shadows and transitions and are more memorable.

When you are designing your icons, check out Apple’s iOS Human Interface Guidelines for inspiration and best practices.

Use humans to find unique keywords

While there are enough keyword tools out there that do a stellar job of identifying high-value keywords, the problem is that your competition is also using them, and likely optimizing for the same keywords. Instead, ask people to describe how they would search for your app by setting up Human Intelligence Tasks (HIT)  in Amazon Mechanical Turk and analyzing the responses to find appropriate keywords.

Use competitive keyword research tools

When you are getting started with app store optimization and keyword research, find out the keywords your competition is using.

Use tools like AppCodes, AppTweak, SensorTower or Mobile Action to find out keywords competing apps are ranking for.

Use SEMRush to find out keywords authority sites in your niche rank for.

These app intelligence tools will help you understand user intent and keep your competition from blindsiding you.

Monitor keyword ranking regularly

Like with websites, keep an eye on the rankings of your keywords, as well as any new keywords that might pop up.

You can use the app intelligence tools mentioned in the above point to track your keywords and keep adding new keywords or removing older ones while staying within the 100 character limit.

 A/B test everything on your app listing

Icons, screenshots, descriptions, keywords, videos- all these elements matter for App Store Optimization. As this conversion study by AppAnnie shows, changing videos and screenshots seem to deliver 25-30% conversion lift, followed by icons and description.

To begin with, test the high visible titles, description, images and videos first, and then move on to other sections in the app store listing.

Ask ratings and reviews from happy users

Reviews and ratings play the very important role in how an app is perceived by users, and also by Apple. A study found that all else being equal, 59% users will download apps with high ratings.

While the vast majority of your users will not leave a rating or a review, a tiny minority will leave negative reviews if something has crashed.

Top rated apps almost always follow this process to get positive feedback:

  • Monitor in-app user behavior until they have gotten some kind of value from the app.
  • Ask a Yes/No question to users about whether they like the app.
  • Prompt the Yes cohort to rate and review, and offer the No’s to leave internal feedback

Change your revenue model or marketing strategy

To increase the velocity of downloads in the short term you can:

  • Give deep discounts on your premium apps for a limited period of time
  • Collaborate with AppSumo for a one-time giveaway
  • Give special discounts to members of online communities, listeners of podcasts, bloggers etc.
  • These one time activities can boost downloads and app store rankings of apps provided they are well planned for, and there is a proven demand for the app.

Get Hunted

Getting hunted on Product Hunt can give a huge boost to your app’s visibility. Because of its highly engaged community, you will get installs and if you are featured on the Product Hunt homepage, you can expect to see a significant leap in installs.

For freshly launched apps, the Product Hunt effect can help you avoid Apple’s infamous 7 day cliff and maintain your rankings because of the initial burst in user activity.

Use trending topics as keywords

You should consider using trending topics as keywords. For example, during the US presidential race a search for “Trump” showed 2.109 results and a search for “Hillary” showed 334 results in the App Store.

While most of these apps had nothing to do with the candidates, you can get really creative and focus on seasonal events, optimize your keywords and drive search traffic towards your app. For instance, if you have an exercise app you could add the routines of the star players during the Super Bowl and use related keywords to get high rankings.

You can use tools like App Radar to track trending keywords.

Some more for App Marketing:

  • Reach out for influencer
  • Leverage your website with separate mobile app page
  • Feature the app in official blogs
  • Feature the app in Emails
  • Feature the app in Official Social Media channels
  • Create a demo video
  • App display marketing
  • App affiliate marketing
  • Social media ads in social media channels
  • PPC ads for App
  • Consider alternative stores
  • SEO for Mobile App
  • Join developers & entrepreneurs groups in social media to discuss your app
  • Include app download links in your website
  • Be prepared for the press release
  • Promote your app through promo video and video ads
  • Write an announcement and App update blog
  • Join in Social media app groups
  • Run a contest
  • Sincerely ask for customer reviews & respond to all reviews
  • Ask for review on your app from tech experts
  • Roll out new updates constantly
  • Use web notifications to reach customers
  • Use in-app messages & SMS marketing
  • App & app store listing

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